The big secret out of Madison this week didn’t stay secret very long. Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook will be starting his first game when No. 11 Wisconsin (3-0) comes to East Lansing to face No. 8 Michigan State (2-0) at Spartan Stadium.
Kickoff is at noon ET on the Big Ten Network.
Hornibrook came off the bench in the second half at home last Saturday to replace starter Bart Houston and led the Badgers to a 23-17 come-from-behind win against Georgia State. Houston had started the first three games of the season, including a win over then-No. 5 LSU in Wisconsin’s season opener, but head coach Paul Chryst was mum about his decision immediately after the Georgia State game and into his Monday press conference.
Aside from Hornibrook being left-handed and Houston right-handed, does it matter much for Michigan State which one takes the first snap?
Not a whole lot.
“A little bit, but at the same time they’re a Big Ten team,” said junior cornerback Vayante Copeland. “Every quarterback is good. We might not have seen them on film as much but we can over study and attack their tendencies. They like to pound the ball, but by the same token they do things in their throwing game. The quarterback really doesn’t have a major impact. They do what they do. Their backup quarterback has probably been practicing as much as their starting quarterback.
“Our approach to the game is just key on our keys and limit their big plays.”
What Wisconsin does best is run the ball. Senior tailback Corey Clement sat out against Georgia State with an ankle injury and has been listed as questionable on the Badgers’ injury report this week, but the Spartans are planning on him playing Saturday. Clement missed much of last season with a sports hernia injury that limited him to four games and 221 yards. He already has 197 yards in two games this season.
“He’s a stud,” said Michigan State junior linebacker Jon Reschke.
Whether it’s Clement, sophomore Taiwan Deal, redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw or senior Dare Ogunbowale running the ball, that back will have a massive offensive line in front of him. The starting five of left tackle Ryan Ramczyk (6-foot-6, 314 pounds), left guard Micah Kapoi (6-3, 334), center Michael Dieter (6-6, 325), right guard Beau Benzschawel (6-6, 321) and right tackle Jacob Maxwell (6-6, 313) are the foundation of everything Wisconsin does offensively.
“They’ve got a stable of running backs. If a couple of them are hurt, the other two are going to play,” said linebackers coach Mark Snyder. “They’re not going to change their offense. They’re going to do what they do whether it’s the right-handed quarterback or the left-handed quarterback, or jersey No. 7 (Shaw) the tailback or jersey No. 6 (Clement) the tailback. They’re going to do what they do because they have a stable of people that do that and they don’t change much. Again, that’s a credit to them.”
Michigan State and Wisconsin haven’t played since 2012 but nothing has changed about their basic program philosophies in that time. In many ways they are mirror images, which is a compliment to Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.
“When we came (in 2007), I looked at Iowa, what Kirk Ferentz has built. I looked at the Wisconsin program and what was built there,” said Dantonio. “They did it the hard way where they had been down a little bit at one point, built it back up, had a consistent winning program and stability and continuity. I thought that was one thing we wanted to have. We wanted to have continuity here. We wanted to have strength in the schedule, do all the things they’ve been doing, Rose Bowls, things of that nature.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo